Massage for migraines: an introduction

Evidence of massage therapy has been found in numerous ancient cultures, including those of Egypt, India, China, Japan and Arabic countries.

Massage involves a therapist pressing, stroking, rubbing, kneading and pressing on the body’s tissues and muscles. There is also some evidence that massage for migraine sufferers may help reduce the number of attacks.

Massage is often used for:

  • Relieving muscle tension
  • Reducing stress
  • Easing pain
  • Alleviating sleep disorders
  • Increasing mental alertness
  • Improving mood
  • Relieving depression in some cases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2002, 19 million Americans have used massage therapy at least once. Some 10 million have used massage in the past year.

How to massage for migraines

Some types of massage have helped ease migraine pain.

Head massages temporarily relieves head pain for some sufferers.

Massage is thought to relieve pain by releasing the chemical serotonin. Serotonin and migraines are believed to be related.

Massage may also block pain signals sent to the brain, which can help prevent migraines.

Studies on migraine massage therapy

There are very few studies on massage and migraine, which adhere to the top standards for clinical trial.

One small 2006 study of 47 migraine sufferers randomly assigned some participants to receive massage therapy. Those who had massages had fewer migraines and slept better during the weeks they had massages.

Different types of massage

There are many different types massage available.

  • Swedish massage
  • Sports massage
  • Deep tissue massage
  • Reflexology
  • Lymphatic massage
  • Shiatsu
  • Rolfing
  • Cranio sacral relaxation therapy (CSR)

Possible side effects of massage

Rare side effects from massage can occur, particularly when too much pressure is applied, including:

  • Damage to nerves
  • Internal bleeding
  • Allergic reactions to products used such as massage oils and lotions
  • Temporary paralysis

Who should not participate in Massage for migraines

People with certain diseases and conditions should avoid massage, including:

  • Kidney failure
  • Heart failure
  • Blood clots
  • Bleeding or blood-related disorders
  • Contagious skin problems
  • Phlebitis or cellulitis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fever
  • Mental impairment
  • Recent surgery
  • Fractures
  • Open sores or fresh wounds

People with cancer should check with their doctor before seeking a massage.

Pregnant women should get their doctor’s permission before receiving massages and should only use a massage therapist who is specifically trained in pregnancy massage.

You should tell your massage therapist about all medications you take, including those that are applied directly to the skin.

During flare-ups, people with the following, shouldn’t receive massages:

  • Goiters
  • Skin lesions
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Eczema

Pregnant women should discuss safe forms of Massage with their doctor first.

Stop your massage therapist immediately if you experience chest pain or any chest discomfort. See your doctor before you resume exercising.



As always, the best source for advice on treating your migraines is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your physician. Again, this information should in no way substitute or be mistaken for medical advice.

Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010
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